It was a year that contained very little story-based content provided by the developer, Cryptic Studios, as it was put through the proverbial ringer -- first by being sold off, and second by being purchased in the midst of what many believed was the game's most critical year.
With the focus that many players (including me) had on the lack of new missions in 2011, it was easy to gloss over what material did get released despite the challenges the strangle-held teams at Cryptic were facing.
The game has gone free-to-play, there are visibly more players than have ever been seen before, the development team seems to be settling in to a new owner's house, and the second anniversary is upon us, so it's time to take a good look back to see what was released over the course of the last year.
There is no doubt that the five-part featured episode series Cloaked Intentions whetted the playerbase's appetite and made them hungry for more.
Released in early spring of 2011, the series takes place near the Romulan Neutral Zone and revolves around a Reman-led rebellion against Romulan masters.
This is and has been my favorite of all of the Cryptic-made missions to date. The writing is tight, and the ability for the player to choose which side she will support makes the series that much more compelling.
There are challenging space battles, yes, but I have always been a fan of the ground battles. (Yes, yes, I know that apparently I'm weird that way, but it's true.) The final episode of the series, Cutting the Cord, is one huge ground assault during which the player's character is part of a group to attempting to take down a Tal Shiar base. This mission is a blast to play with a full team, especially a lighthearted one.
Throughout the series, players are rewarded with visually arresting ship shields, ground and space weapons, and the ability to craft an attack Horta, a sentient silicon-based life form that you find in the very mines the Romulans invaded.
Cloaked Intentions was the first time we began to see the heavy use of cutscenes and voice-overs in the game, and the players ate it up.
I believe it was a contributing reason for why the subsequent drought of follow-up missions was so hard to deal with. We had been given a big dose of a very addictive substance, and it was very, very hard to not get another hit.
Maybe because it seemed like two years ago rather than just one, I wasn't reminded of the fact that there was an enormous amount of environmental work done during 2011 until recently.
The first revamp players were treated to was a completely new Earth Spacedock. ESD, which at first resembled an old K-7 style spaceport, was plain and a bit clunky-looking. When the new ESD was revealed, many players were very grateful to see the monstrous and familiar Watchtower design finally put into the game.
Not too long after, players were given a new playground: Starfleet Academy. The map is beautifully rendered and is true to Trek canon. San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge is featured prominently, as it should be, since the Academy sits at the base on the north end of the bridge, more closely set in Sausalito than San Francisco. The buildings are perfect depictions of the glass-covered buildings that are shown in the shows and movies. There's even a fitting memorial to Boothby, the revered Academy gardener who was considered to be a mentor to many, including Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
Since the Academy's debut, it has become a place to complete simple daily lore missions as well as the place where duty officers can be recruited. However, much of it still lies in wait for some form of activity that can really make it sing.
This past year also saw the Klingons get some love -- well, at least as far as environments are concerned.
The Klingon home word of Qo'noS got a complete makeover. Gone was the singular building that housed everything, and in its place, Klingons were given a complete and spectacular city.
First City has a vibrant and smoky city center, bank, barracks, metalworks foundry, livestock area, and red-light district/slum -- essentially everything that would never appear in a world that belonged in the UFP shows itself on Qo'noS.
Above it all sits the new space dock; below on the ground is the Klingon Academy. Like its counterpart on the UFP side, the Klingon Academy is more of a place to undertake lore missions and obtain duty officers, but it has potential to be used for so much more.
Foundry creativity explodes
I need to acknowledge all of the players who put aside fighting battles and completing first contact missions of their own in order to express their love of the game and of Star Trek by providing their fellow players with the story-based missions whose official counterparts have eluded us for the past year.
The beginning of the year saw a wonderful amount of support from Cryptic for Foundry authors in the form of a platform called the Foundry Spotlight, in which one author's mission was chosen and highlighted on the STO website.
Not only did this give the individual author some well-deserved exposure, but it gave the Foundry on the whole exposure to the wider playerbase.
Sadly, the Foundry Spotlight faded away at the same time the Foundry suffered a terrible technical failure after the launch of Season 4. While a few small but irritating bugs remain, the Foundry has been functioning well, and the authors have been releasing some spectacular stories again.
I hope that Cryptic finds a way to turn the spotlight back on because these missions deserve to be played.
While story-based missions were not seen again in 2011 after Cloaked Intentions was released, there were a few changes and additions to the game that qualify as playable content.
Strategic Task Force missions were revamped entirely, cutting three long, tedious missions into six shorter missions that were easier for players to devote time toward. Mission rewards were also changed in these missions and now require players to repeat the STFs to gather items to craft high-end armor and ship technology.
Along with the STF revamps, Borg incursion missions began to cause red alerts in every sector and allowed players to jump into a challenging battle on a whim. The incursions occur randomly in different sectors; a beacon flares onscreen when a Borg squadron invades the sector. Rewards vary for the level of player but include a choice of in-game currency, a small XP bonus chit, and a level-appropriate weapon.
Another new Borg invasion, a ground invasion of the planet Defera, was introduced before the game went free-to-play. These events occur less frequently than the space incursions, so you must pay close attention to the game event calendar to know when the Borg will assimilate Defera. Apparently Borg are even more punctual than the Tholians. (If you don't get that joke, you really need to watch more Star Trek.)
New Mirror Universe incursions were also slipped into the game and can be accessed by paying close attention to the game's event calendar. The space-focused battles are another way to change up daily routines.
In the words of Inigo Montoya: "There is too much; let me sum up."
I need to thank my fellow player RachelGarrett, whose amazing anniversary tribute video became the inspiration for this column. While I was asked by the editors to do a "year in review" column, I was finding it difficult to remember just what exactly had been put into the game primarily because my focus seems to have been on what wasn't put in. Thank you for making that gorgeous video; I encourage everyone who reads this column to watch it. And do yourself a favor: Hike that puppy up to 1080p and widen it to full screen. The work is superb.
This upcoming year will now be seen as Cryptic's and STO's most critical. Mergers are complete. Hiring freezes have been lifted. The game is now free-to-play. It's time for this game to start living up to the franchise's motto and go boldly.
A new featured episode series begins Saturday, February 11th, and a new playable episode will be released every Saturday through March 10th. That's a good start.
I'm going to go fly my big new ships for a while and see whether I like them. In the meantime, take care and live long and prosper!
Incoming communique from Starfleet Headquarters: Captain's Log is now transmitting direct from Terilynn Shull every Saturday, providing news, rumors, and dev interviews about Star Trek Online. Beam communications to firstname.lastname@example.org.